The NYU School of Professional Studies is a leader in professionally focused education. For nearly 85 years, the School has partnered with industry to develop programs of study that meet the needs of the workforce in New York City and beyond. The School’s success is based upon its ability to evolve and to develop educational programs that address the increasingly globalized nature of business, the explosion of data and technology, and the social and political factors that influence the industries it serves, both here in the U.S. and around the globe.

In recent years, the School has developed Professional Pathways, a suite of non-degree programs designed to meet the needs of professionals at every stage of their career. The Pathways are Career Advancement Courses, NYUSPS Diplomas, and NYUSPS Certificates. Collectively, they generate tens of thousands of enrollments each year and provide students with a variety of unique study options.

By creating the pathway programs, the School has effectively addressed the diverse range of goals and objectives of professionals who often have a difficult time identifying the type of education required during a particular phase of their career. NYUSPS created a short narrative for each educational pathway to guide prospective students in initially choosing one that would best fit their needs. Then, prospective students could explore many options within a single pathway, as well as specific criteria for enrollment and a clearly defined course of study.

As with any product launch, research for the programs within each pathway was conducted in advance to ensure that they would be the correct fit for the market and that the messaging and the marketing plans developed for them would resonate with and penetrate the intended target audiences. As the programs launched, the School monitored interest levels and enrollments to ensure that messaging was hitting the mark and that enrollments were reaching specified goals, and repositioned them as needed.

While the School built its reputation over the decades on its single, non-degree courses, a strategic business decision was made to rename them Career Advancement Courses and to position them as options for those individuals who are already working in industry and need to acquire new skills to excel or advance in their career. After years of offering many of the same courses, the School pared down the offerings that were underperforming and added content that was more relevant to the marketplace and immediately applicable for working professionals.

By far the most flexible option of all NYUSPS non-degree pathways, Career Advancement Courses are open-enrollment, professionally focused, and provide maximum flexibility to create a personalized educational experience. The courses are offered both online and onsite, and concentrate on key industries that drive the economy. Courses can be taken in combinations or individually, and students can choose to complete as many or as few courses as they want. There are no requirements for registration, though some more advanced courses may have prerequisites. Hundreds of new courses have been developed, ranging from Digital Analytics and Social Media Content Creation to Introduction to Clean Energy Policy and Leadership in Sustainability, to International Intellectual Property and Bioethics Mediation. The reimagined Career Advancement Courses are a testament to the School’s agility in developing cutting-edge programs that align with the most sought-after skill sets.

In addition to redesign and repositioning of its single courses, the School’s strategy also focused on taking a more prescriptive approach to its non-degree offerings in the form of Diploma Programs. The name “diploma” was chosen in anticipation of potentially offering these credentials in international markets, where this term is more familiar than certificate. To avoid market confusion, NYUSPS retired its certificates and built the Diploma Programs from scratch. The path to the development and deployment of the Diploma Programs was a learning experience that taught the School’s administrators and marketing team that, though pre-launch research may be used as a guide to identify target audiences and subject matter, they must be open to making necessary adjustments to ensure market alignment, even after the launch. This is especially true if, as was the case with the Diplomas, additional or different markets emerge as a better fit.

The original Diploma Programs were designed for three target audiences: individuals with only a high school diploma who would enroll in a Diploma to train for entry-level jobs in industry; people who have earned some college credit and are seeking to supplement what they had learned in school to advance their careers without having to finish their degree; and prospects with undergraduate degrees  who want to gain specialized knowledge in an area of expertise related to their job and earn a credential.

After two cycles of promotion, it became clear not only that the target audience most interested in the Diplomas was the group that had finished their undergraduate education, but that individuals in this target group had also earned a master’s degree. Consequently, the Diplomas were restructured and relaunched to meet the needs of professionals with advanced degrees. Today, NYUSPS Diploma Programs are admission-based and intended for professionals seeking to enhance their expertise in distinct areas. Designed for those with career experience at a mid-tier level and above, the programs offer a deep dive into specific skill sets that help students build on their current knowledge.

Diploma Programs focus on a wide range of areas:  Social Media Management; Energy Finance: Fossil Fuels to Renewables; Healthcare Informatics for Clinicians; Copyediting, Proofreading, and Fact Checking; Advanced Project Management; Managing Workplace Diversity and Inclusion; Legal Project Management; Cybersecurity; User Experience Design; and Commercial Real Estate Lending. Applicants submit two references, an essay, and a resume, ensuring that Diploma Program students become part of a cohort of experienced professionals. Diplomas typically consist of four or five required courses that are completed within two years.

Once the new Diplomas were launched and had gained traction in the marketplace, NYUSPS relaunched its Certificate Programs to meet the needs of professionals who wanted to gain a broader overview of a field, including those interested in changing or launching a second career. Students are not required to submit an application for Certificates, but they are obliged to make a commitment to completing the full course of study (usually four or five classes) once they begin the first course.

Certificates cover a broad range of disciplines and reflect emerging areas of business where broad-based skill sets are necessary. Programs such as Storytelling: Narrative Tools and Applications, Food and Beverage Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Data Visualization, Cities and Urban Development, Historic Preservation Studies, and Agile Management provide comprehensive exploration of topics hard to find elsewhere and build high-demand skills that are immediately applicable in the workplace. More prescribed than Career Advancement Courses and less focused than Diplomas, each Certificate is comprised of several required courses and a choice of elective courses, affording students the opportunity to explore subjects most relevant to them. To date, we have found that the Certificates are targeting the audiences that were originally identified and that the skill sets students gain are highly relevant.

In addition to these pathways, the School also offers a wide range of courses in the humanities with a focus on history, culture, literature, philosophy, psychology, and religion as well as theater, music, and acting. While everyone can take the courses, the School has seen a marked uptick in enrollment in these subjects by senior citizens with high levels of disposable income—and has uncovered a completely new market! The humanities courses provide a wealth of opportunities to join in deep discussion and to exchange ideas with like-minded individuals. Seniors love getting out and engaging on topics they find stimulating and entertaining, and the School has made these programs even more accessible by offering more of them during the day, along with a 25% older adult discount.

Addressing the driving forces of change in industry has led to a new non-degree business model at NYUSPS and new options for learners. There is something for everyone—from individuals who are more casual about their career path and the way they learn to professionals who are aiming for specific goals. It is this level of choice and thoughtful program development that allows NYUSPS to ensure it can meet the needs of its many diverse students, now and in the years to come.


Paola Curcio-Kleinman is the assistant dean for Strategic Marketing and Communications at the NYU School of Professional Studies. She works with the dean and the associate deans to develop the domestic and global marketing strategies, messaging, and public relations initiatives for non-credit, post-traditional undergraduate, and graduate programs. She serves on UPCEA’s Marketing, Enrollment Management, and Student Services Committee.